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D-League Alumni Look To Help Lead Canada To The Olympics

This summer, a handful of NBADL alumni will look to help team Canada make their first Olympic appearance since 2000.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of the past few years, there's been an uptick of Canadian-born players that have made their way to the NBA. Starting in 2013, there have been five Canadian-born players that have been selected in the lottery with Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins leading the way as 1st overall picks, in 2013 and 2014, respectively. While the jury's still out on the success of those players, it's a definitive sign of the continued progression of the Canadian basketball scene.

That progress of Canadian basketball has also been evident in the D-League. Of course, the most apparent example of that was the Raptors 905, who just finished their debut season. While the team struggled in their debut season, finishing 15-23, it was still an important milestone for both the D-League and Canadian basketball in general.

While the inclusion of the Raptors 905 was huge for the NBADL, there has been a steady stream of solid Canadian players in the D-League over the past few years. Current Raptors guard Cory Joseph might be one of the earliest examples of that, as he was a huge part of the great Austin Toros (now Austin Spurs) teams of the early 2010's. In 2011-12, he worked alongside Justin Dentmon to help lead the Toros to the 2012 NBADL championship. In the following year, Joseph stood as one of the NBADL's best guards as he averaged 19.3 points and 5.4 assists per game.

Joseph was able to carry that D-League success to become a part of the San Antonio Spurs 2013 championship squad. Following that, Joseph signed a four-year, $30 million deal with the Toronto Raptors where he currently stands as a solid role player.

Looking away from Joseph, some other solid past D-Leaguers from Canada include: Melvin Ejim, Sim Bhullar, and Khem Birch and Brady Heslip. Out of that bunch, Khem Birch probably had the most successful D-League career based on his accomplishments. With the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Birch averaged 11.2 points, 9.5 boards and 1.7 blocks on 70% shooting in 26 minutes per game. That kind of outrageous efficiency led Birch to being on the All-Rookie 1st team and All-Defensive 1st team during the 2014-15 season.

Toronto natives Sim Bhullar and Melvin Ejim have also had their own D-League success. The 7'6 Bhullar has been one of the most intriguing D-Leaguers since he started playing with the Reno Bighorns in 2014-15. While his sheer size (7'6 and 355 pounds) has ultimately limited his playing time over his first two seasons, averaging 25 minutes per game. He's been successful in that limited playing time, averaging 10 points and 7.8 rebounds per game on 69% shooting. Meanwhile, Ejim had his own D-League success, as he put up 14.5 points, 7.7 boards and 3.1 assists per game on 47% shooting for the Erie Bayhawks.

Oakville, Ontario native Brady Heslip was an awe-inspiring perimeter weapon during his short time with the Reno Bighorns in the 2014-15 season. In his 20 game stint, Heslip averaged 24.5 points per game on 47% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc on 12.7 perimeter attempts per game. Despite that brief run, Heslip is still recognized as one of the best perimeter shooters that the D-League has ever seen.

That quartet will be looking to carry that D-League success to help the Canadian National Basketball team make their first appearance in the Olympics since 2000. The journey will begin next month in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, as Canada will head to the Philippines to compete in a six-team tournament to decide who will be heading to Rio in August. In that tournament, Canada will be squaring off against: France, New Zealand, Turkey, Senegal and the Philippines.

While France and Turkey will probablybe seen as favorites due to their past international success, Canada does stand as an outside favorite due to their array of talented young players. Outside of that D-League alumni, the Canadian squad features current NBA players Andrew Nicholson, Dwight Powell (former Texas Legend forward), Nik Stauskas, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Ennis and Trey Lyles. Alongside that, projected lottery pick Jamal Murray will also be with the squad just a week after being selected in next year's draft.

As those current NBA studs will be leading the squad, expect some of the former D-League alumni to work as key contributors. Khem Birch will be able to work as an energy big that can dominate the offensive glass and run the floor. Heslip will work alongside Jamal Murray as dangerous perimeter weapons that opposing teams must keep their eyes locked onto. Melvin Ejim could play a role as an effective perimeter defender that could also help work on the offensive glass.

Those potential contributions will hope to play a key part in their ultimate goal: help lead Team Canada to an Olympic opportunity. That opportunity alone will be a huge boom for a country that hasn't seen their team play Olympic hoops in 16 years.